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Tougher gun licencing could prevent some homicides
Experts: mental health services and intervention into violent behaviour more effective than banning handguns
The shooting incident at the Sello shopping mall in Espoo has revived debate on the proliferation of guns in Finland and the possible tightening of Finnish firearms legislation.
The easy availability of weapons can increase the risk of both suicides and homicides, which means that making it harder to get a gun licence could prevent at least some deaths. However, instead of bans on hand guns, experts put a higher priority on early intervention into violent behaviour and threats of violence as well as treatment of mental health problems.
According to the head physician at Finland’s Psychiatric Prison Hospital, research professor Hannu Lauerma, more stringent firearms legislation can reduce the number of shootings, but he does not believe in great upheavals.
“A tougher gun law offers a small possibility to improve the situation, but it should be done in a way that sport shooting would not suffer”, Lauerma says.
“Illegal weapons are fairly easy to acquire in any case. In addition, violence and mass murders are also committed with razor-sharp machetes.”
“Primarily, however, I would call for improved mental health services. Even though it would not eliminate all violence in the world, it has a preventative effect.”
Also emphasising prevention and care for those in danger of being marginalised is Outi Pärnänen, information officer of the Finnish Red Cross.
“Making it harder to acquire weapons can be a good thing, but it will not solve these problems. On the other hand, if someone has a mental health problem, the availability of a gun can easily lead that person to actually using it”, she ponders.
The mass killings at Jokela and Kauhajoki brought attention to the fact that Finland is one of the leading countries in the world in gun ownership.
About 650,000 people in Finland have firearms licences, and there are 1.6 million registered weapons. About 1,000 illegal firearms are confiscated every year.
Shooting hobbyists and hunters campaign on behalf of responsible gun use. They want to secure the right to use guns as a hobby, while conceding the need for control.
“Sello involved an illegal weapon. Tougher gun legislation would not have been a solution”, says Markku Lainevirta,, head of a project on the development of the shooting hobby launched by the Shooting Hobby Forum.
“It is a step in the right direction that tougher restrictions are coming for the granting of a person’s first handgun licence.”
The Shooting Hobby Forum includes shooting hobbyists, hunters, and military reservists.
In the view of Risto Räsänen of the Association of Next of Kin of Homicide Victims feels that domestic violence should be intervened in first and foremost, as most homicides in Finland take place within the family.
Räsänen welcomes the tougher line taken by police. “Police have taken guns away when the owner has committed a crime. In addition, an applicant for a gun licence is scrutinised more closely than before.”
Räsänen feels that restraining orders should be made to function better than they do now. At present, such an order can be imposed for no more than a year, and for a maximum three months at a time within a family.
“If someone threatens another person’s life, it always needs to be taken seriously. Nobody does something like that as a joke”, Räsänen emphasises.